Liberty Mills Church of the Brethren

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"Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus” (Acts 3:19).

Remember when you first gave your heart to Jesus?  After much fear and hesitation, you asked Jesus into your heart and felt the “times of refreshing” that come from the Lord.  Suddenly life was new and beautiful!  You had real joy for the first time and could feel Jesus with you.  You knew that God loved you and was watching out for you.

Now What?

What do you do now?  Will you always feel this good?  Will those wonderful feelings from God stop coming?  If they do, does that mean you messed up?  How do you live the next day, and the next, and the next? 

I believe living the Christian life is like taking a long hike.  Have you ever been on one?  I don’t mean those little two-hour hikes at a reservoir or national park.  I mean the two day hikes at a larger place where you have to lug a sleeping bag and backpack or the five hour hikes where you have to carry food and water and walk the entire day. 

Remember how you started?  You packed your backpack carefully; making sure you had everything you would need.  You knew there would be no shopping along the trail. 

What does a Christian put in his backpack?

The first thing you need is a map!  A map of the trail and surrounding area is essential so you can know how far you’ve come and where you want to go.  The Bible is a map for the new Christian.  God gave us his Word to who us where we are with him, and how to get back to the trail if we have strayed. 

Now just as there is a wrong way to read a map (not marking your beginning point--“You are here!” –and holding the south end north), so there are wrong ways to read the Bible.  One wrong way is the “flip open” method of reading.  May Christians use this for a time.  With this method, you grab your Bible and let it fall open and look at the verses that “come up.”  This will work for awhile, but it has drawbacks. 

Sometimes we almost use it like magic or casting dice.  “Where will the Bible fall open today?”  You read every verse as God’s special instructions to you, but that may not be the case.  For instance, I could flip open the Bible to Matthew 27:5 where Judas, Jesus Christ’s betrayer, “went away and hanged himself.” and then I could flip again and hit the place in Luke 10:37 where Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

Obviously, Bible verses need to be read in context.  What that means is, books of the Bible should be read straight through, a little bit a day, so that you can know what Jesus said through the entire book.  This keeps you from getting meanings messed up.

“But I don’t understand everything in this book,” you may say.  That’s all right.  I don’t understand everything on maps I pick up either (especially how to fold them), but I can see enough to know where I am and where I want to be. 

Many new Christians want to read their Bible like a suspense novel.  They start at Genesis (Wow, the creation…and the flood!)  But the excitement quickly wears off when they hit Exodus and the detailed instructions about construction the tabernacle.  Then comes Leviticus and the laws for sacrifice and the curing of infectious skin diseases (yawn).  Such readers rarely make it to the New Testament—the very part they need most. 

Read your Bible just like that trail map.  Go right to the spot you want most to learn—and that is Jesus.  That means reading a section of the New Testament every day until you’re at the end, then starting the New Testament again, and again.  Read a Psalm every day too (they’re at the center of your Bible).  They really help when you are hurting or feeling abandoned.  Only then, if you still have time, should you go back to the Old Testament.  You will find fascinating stories there, but they are not as important to you right now as Jesus is. 

Buy a “map” you can understand.  When my family and I went hiking in Rocky Mountain State Park in Colorado, I bought this waterproof plastic map of the area.  Very fancy but it was a topographic map, showing more about elevation and terrain than the trails.  I could hardly use it.  Grandma’s old King James Bible is God’s Word, but it was translated by Englishmen in lace collars in the 1600s.  They used phrases like “waxed exceedingly” (not about furniture), “vowest a vow, “and “defer not” every day.  We do not.  There are many modern translations you can choose that are much easier to read.  Invest in one.

Many hikers write in trail journals when they take long hikes, describing the weather, their experiences and the things they have seen.  This is a good idea for a new Christian too.  Buy a nice notebook and write a prayer or praise to Jesus every day, even if it’s just a few lines.  Write out your thoughts to him.   You will be surprised at what goes down on paper as the Holy Spirit leads you.  Often it is different than what you would pray out load.  Just like those trail journals, it will be fun to look back once in a while and see where you have been.  You will see how you came through some “bad weather” in your life, and how you shared your joy with God and others.

On my last few hikes I took my cell phone.  I wanted to call home and describe the beauty I was witnessing.  Your cell phone is prayer.  It keeps you in touch with your Heavenly Father, who worries about you.  He loves you and wants to hear from you all day.  There are no time limits, roaming or long distance charges with him.  God loves to talk on the “phone” with you.  No experience or yearning is too small for him to be interested in.  Prayer releases God to act in you life, just like a phone call from your kids brings action from you. 

Every hiker knows there are some things you do not put in a backpack.  Once my wife Julie and I packed a bunch of fresh fruit, and quickly found out how heavy fruit is on the trail.  Some hikers take heavy books to read and regret it.  You cannot take sin along as you follow Jesus, no matter how harmless or common the sin seems to be or how hard it is to give up.  Sin is destructive in so many ways that you cannot see yet.  Sin is heavy.  It drags you down.  Jesus said, when speaking about the rapture (our being taken up into heaven with him), “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation (wasting your life), drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap” (Luke 21:34, emphasis mine).  Many sins that people accept now will weigh you down so you cannot finish the trail.  Do not try to take them with you. 

They say that the most dangerous thing for a hiker to do is to hike alone.  A sprained or broken ankle in a remote place can be life threatening, especially if bad weather is coming in.  This is especially true for Christians.  Jesus sent out his disciples two by two (Luke 10:1) for that reason.  Who is hiking the Christian life with you? Find that person at work or school who is a Christian, pair up and talk about Jesus!  This will give you both encouragement and also strength to witness to others.  Join a Bible study or prayer group so you can share your concerns and join with others in prayer, prayer locks people together.  You need the strength you will receive. 

Stay on the trail!  I remember taking a short hike with a friend down a mountainside from a Rocky Mountain overlook.  We went down a ways and found some old Western ranch buildings that had long been abandoned.  After looking around awhile, we turned back toward the overlook only to find we could not see it!  It took us a long time to figure out where it was. 

Without the guidance of the Bible, a few good Christian friends and going to church, it is easy to go “off the trail” without even knowing it, living a life that hurts God and can even endanger your salvation. 

Being off the trail in the Christian life is dangerous.  There are demonic forces out there that will eat you.  1 peter 58 says, “Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith.”

Solomon, who received the first of wisdom from God, wrote in Proverbs, “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.  Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.  Do not swerve to the right or the left, keep your foot from evil” Are you staying on the trail? Are your eyes fixed on Jesus?  What self wants can kill your faith and lose you the Kingdom.

Probably the biggest trap that stops most hikers is feelings.  There you are, at the trail head, ready to hike.  You are rested, comfortable and ready to walk.  You are excited.

Two hours later you are ready to quit.  You are tired, bugs are orbiting your head, sweat is on your brow.  Your feet hurt.  Where did the fun go?  This is when many hikers turn back and find a pop machine. 

Christians are often like that.  We all have timers of testing, when we’re hiking up hills in the hot sun and the view not pretty anymore.  I think the thing that defeats Christian “hikers” is not so much the great tragedies that test our faith, but the day to day drag through a life that offers no spectacular views.  Feelings from God are not good enough to keep you going.  Plant your feet, grab your walking stick and hike.  Follow Jesus down the trail when you feel nothing.  The greatest faith is not when you have great feelings and revelations from God because according to Hebrews 11.1, faith is the evidence of things not seen (or felt).  The greatest faith is when you feel nothing, receive nothing, and you are still telling Jesus that you love him. 

Do not look too far down the trail.  Hikers who dwell on how tired they will be the final few miles of their hike will probably not start, or get very far.  Do not agonize about all the things you are not doing yet.  I used to read the Bible and think, “I can’t do that!”  It would make me afraid.  Now, years later, more and more I can look at the same passages and think, “I can do that!”  Following, Jesus is a process

Do not look back the way you came either, at all the spider webs you put your face through and roots you tripped on.  Discouragement is there too.  “This trail is full of spiders! Let’s go back.”  Many Christians are downhearted because Satan is always reminding them of their sins and past failures, and they listen

Paul gave us some good advice about this in Philippians 3:12-15 “Not that I have already attained all this (being like Christ) , or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.”

Keep on hiking!  You will get the prize!  Jesus is hiking ahead of you, even when he’s around a curve and you cannot see him.  God is with you.  He will give you a hand up when you need it.  He can tend your injuries, and He will.  At the end of the trail is heaven where there are no bugs, snakes, or sore feet.  Relax and keep walking.  You will get there!

103 North Third Street | Liberty Mills IN 46946 | Phone 260-982-6169
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